Friday, June 27, 2008

Are Americans Getting Dumber?

There are two things I always notice when I travel in Europe. The first is how fat we are (myself included, although by American standards I'm pretty slim). The second is how the level of discourse goes up by at least an order of magnitude when I get off the plane. Here is a translated article from die Zeit (by way of

(If you don't read watchingamerica from time to time, do so. It's really instructive to learn how the world thinks of us.)

Now I don't think Americans are dumb, at least not individually. In the herd, though, we sink to the lowest level of nearly any civilized country. We don't speak other languages. I have literally shocked people in Germany when they address me in English and I respond in German. Das gibt doch nicht, they say, That doesn't exist, or Du hast mich doch erschrocken,
you certainly shocked me. Not to say I'm the only American who speaks German but I certainly find the ones who do a lot more interesting.

My German friends and acquaintances of all educational levels always surprise me with their depth. We get together, a bit of beer or wine flows and we're talking about politics - American politics - or literature, or philosophy, or art. I read the posters stuck to nearly any flat surface in Frankfurt, classical concerts, theater, political talks. Here on the bus stops I see posters for Get Smart. And we wonder why we are losing ground in the world. In Sweden, everyone literally speaks English. They get their entertainment from us, you see, and the market for Swedish entertainment is not large enough to overdub, so they get English with subtitles. And the buildings are all built to allow natural light, something I'd like to see you propose to an American builder.

Are Americans stupid? No, not individually. As a herd, we're shallow, we think only in the short term and we tend to be very self-absorbed and I think that was what the author of the piece cited meant.

Then I read of attempts to legislate natural law and once again, I become just a bit ashamed of what our country has become.

And finally, a bit of culture for a Friday night:

And a bit more fuel for this fire....
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